Cannabis use, abuse, and dependence in a population-based sample of female twins

Am J Psychiatry. 1998 Aug;155(8):1016-22. doi: 10.1176/ajp.155.8.1016.


Objective: The rate of cannabis use by women has been increasing in recent decades. This study examined the etiology of cannabis use and abuse among women and the possible role of genetic risk factors.

Method: Unselected individual twins (N=1,934) from female-female pairs ascertained through a population-based registry, including both members of 485 monozygotic pairs and of 335 dizygotic pairs, were interviewed by telephone to assess lifetime cannabis use, heavy use, abuse, and dependence as defined by DSM-IV criteria. Biometric model fitting was performed with the Mx computer package.

Results: The prevalences of lifetime cannabis use, heavy use, abuse, and dependence were 47.9%, 6.7%, 7.2%, and 2.2%, respectively. Model fitting suggested that twins' resemblance for liability to cannabis use was due to both genetic and familial-environmental factors, while twins' resemblance for heavy cannabis use and abuse and symptoms of dependence resulted solely from genetic factors, with heritabilities ranging from 62% to 79%. The frequency of adolescent social contact between co-twins, which was greater among monozygotic than among dizygotic twins, predicted the twins' resemblance in cannabis use. However, further analyses suggested that the heritability of cannabis use was at most modestly inflated by such social factors.

Conclusions: In women, genetic risk factors have a moderate impact on the probability of ever using cannabis and a strong impact on the liability to heavy use, abuse, and, probably, dependence. By contrast, the family and social environment substantially influences risk of ever using cannabis but plays little role in the probability of developing heavy cannabis use or abuse.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Diseases in Twins / diagnosis
  • Diseases in Twins / epidemiology*
  • Diseases in Twins / genetics
  • Family
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Marijuana Abuse / diagnosis
  • Marijuana Abuse / epidemiology*
  • Marijuana Abuse / genetics
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Genetic
  • Prevalence
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Registries
  • Research Design
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sex Factors
  • Telephone
  • Twins, Dizygotic / genetics
  • Twins, Monozygotic / genetics
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Virginia / epidemiology